Remodel with Swan Parts

Michael Griffin

The thing Tod feared about his wife returning home was the unveiling. Always that ritual, like a game show host whipping away the drop cloth to reveal a prize. After two weeks 'away at spa,' as she liked to call it, the dam-burst of Cynthia's enthusiasm on return would overrun this anxiety of his. Overrun everything, like a flood clears all in its path.

Tires churned gravel driveway, and an electric motor hummed. At the soft polymer thud of a car door Tod could no longer doubt she was home. One of the clinic staff always delivered Cynthia. All of them loved her.

He stood. After two solitary weeks Tod missed his wife, but he tensed and exhaled unsteadily as he neared the door. Part of him wished for some delay, even as he heard the security scanner's whine-chirp.

She was really home.

Cynthia pushed through the door and dropped her suitcase.

Tod held her off a moment so he could look her up and down. "Glowing, as usual." He saw nothing drastically changed, which took the edge off his worry.

"You'll never guess, until I show you something special." She pulled off her camisole to reveal a sheer white bra.

"You had your chest done?" he asked. "Again?"

"No," she said with exaggerated sweetness. "These zoomers are as perfect as I can make them."

"Fourth time's the charm, I guess."

She dropped flame-red linen pants, kicked off strappy black sandals. Cynthia was forty-four, barely younger than Tod, but her body retained all the smooth, elastic vitality of youth. She possessed the physique of a genetically fortunate athlete of twenty, long-limbed, graceful, and muscular in an appealing way.

Cynthia stripped to white bra-matching panties, dark skin showing through as if she were nude. She twisted as if ready to uncoil like a spring. Facing away, she bent forward at the waist until her inverted face peered up from between her knees.

"Some guys would be glad their wife had her asshole sewn shut, and swore off solid food." Tod aimed for lightheartedness.

Cynthia straightened and glared back. "I'm through arguing over that."

"Diet fads come and go, but you pull half your guts out."

"It's no fad, Tod, and it's not just Seattle any more. Half of America's doing the Con."

"The Con," he repeated, with different emphasis. Adherents of the Contemporary Diet seemed not to mind the nickname's alternate implication.

"When I'm still thin and smooth in forty years, you'll thank me. Besides, it makes me feel clean. More beautiful and perfect." For Cynthia no directive rose above this. More beautiful, more perfect.

The vidwall illuminated the otherwise-neutral room, conveying lifelike motility over monochrome surfaces through shifts in color and luminance. Like an actor shifting into character, Cynthia's expression changed. She turned and bent more slowly this time. When her head was between her knees again, she jerked hips and spine into a joint-popping sort of dance. Legs undulated in wavelike movements, increasing in degree. Not only joints contorted, but bones themselves bowed impossibly.

"Oh, what the..." The inhuman range of movements made Tod dizzy, slightly ill. Despite this, he felt a simultaneous tug at seeing his wife's body, her skin. It had been weeks. He still felt desire for her, a weirdly guilt-tinged lust, as if desiring a stranger. She'd changed so much.

Cynthia watched expectantly, face steady between her knees, then licked the inner line of her leg. Her tongue ran up the curve of her upper calf, and she snaked her torso around until her shoulders fit entirely between her knees. Neck craned and twisting, she traced a line with moistened lips past her outer knee, proportions twisted horribly. Parts of her body in isolation remained pleasing in shape, but the relation between limbs, torso and head was plainly impossible. Like a boneless rubber doll in his wife's likeness, the convincing humanity of her movements was all the more shocking.

"What have you..." Tod began again. His reaction shifted between vague sexual intrigue at these shapely, churning female parts, and the queasy repellence of a freak show.

Cynthia's pouted lips coursed up her leg and she paused to read his reaction, chin perched on her own outer thigh.

"That's the fixie this time," she said. "Bones and ligaments. I'm flexible, like a reed!"

She extended arms sideways, then raised one leg to the ceiling in a standing split, with a grunt of effort. "Any position I want, my body can do."

"Your legs are lengthened, now they're bendy?"

Cynthia grinned and nodded. She lowered her pointed toe to the ground, her torso popped up, and like a gymnast ending a routine she outstretched both arms.

With an effort Tod recognized familiar shapes amid her newer parts. Cynthia stood charmingly pigeon-toed, lips pouted in youthful eagerness, seeking his approval. Two weeks apart. He focused on her pleasing curves and cocoa skin, and accepted what she offered.

~

Tod was shaken from a meditative haze, as if the humming of Cynthia's shower had hypnotized him, by the flash-chime of an incoming comm. Voice only, the system said, and the vidwall faded black. He knew the number, and told the system to answer.

"Hi, Fancie. Cyn's in the shower."

A man's voice replied. "This is Paul, Fancie's husband."

"Cyn mentioned Fancie's been sick," Tod said. "She doing any better?"

"She's... no, not better." Paul's voice skipped, left gaps of silence, and Tod knew. "A blood toxin, they said... She couldn't fight through."

"She's gone?" Now Tod's own breathing went unsteady. "How?" Thinking not of Fancie, but Cynthia.

"Complications." Paul's voice heaved and hitched as he fought for composure. "God, probably from the same work Cynthia just had."

"I'm so sorry," Tod said. "It's awful, I--"

"She was adamant I shouldn't tell her friends." Fancie's husband paused, exhaled slowly. "This Nu culture, these rules. She insisted, she... wants them to remember her being perfect."

"The Nu stuff is a mystery--" Tod was interrupted by a beep as the comm cut off.

~

Tod wanted to turn off the light, but couldn't sleep yet.

"I really don't want you to do this, whatever it is," he said. "You just got back."

Instantly angry, Cynthia sat. "I've done back-to-back before, when it was something you wanted. You loved these, my beautiful zoomies." She rose to her knees and ran hands up her hips, past her waist's narrowing, and over her breasts.

He wanted to say something about Fancie. "Cyn, stop it."

"You had so much lust for me. We swam in it all the time, like a warm pool."

"You were already beautiful, before. I just tried to support everything you said you wanted."

"Why not support me now? Just when I'm becoming perfect?"

She stood, wearing only tiny shorts, and crossed to the broad mirror beside the vidwall. Feet together, she posed, swiveled and sucked in her already-flat belly. A physique both strong and feminine.

"Why'd I marry you, if I want something else?" Tod asked.

"Ykatera." Cynthia spoke without turning toward him. "Remember that name?"

"Who?"

"That ballerina, the Russian."

Tod searched his memory. "I remember the ballet, few years ago. We've only been once. You know her name?"

"I kept the program," Cynthia said, focused. "I researched. Found pictures and a bio."

"So, you're not just trying to be beautiful, you're trying to be Ykatera? The Russian ballerina?"

She lay silent against his protestations, until he gave up. They lay motionless, side by side in the still-lit bedroom. Tod wanted to reason with her, bring up Fancie, but when his indignation settled, before he could think of how to tell her, he trailed off into sleep.

Tod was nudged by a crowd toward a great buffet table, empty plate in both hands. Others shoved forcefully from behind, nearly running him up on trays and platters. Tod knew why everyone was impatient -- they couldn't eat until he stepped up -- but he felt too jostled, too hurried to select food.

He spun, ready to scream nobody's going to eat until I have a second to decide, and confronted the hundreds surrounding him. Everyone had already started eating from the full plates they already held.

~

Pressure drew Tod back to his body. Wetness of insistent kissing, the rhythm of another's breathing rhythm. Consciousness crossed a gap, back from the fuzziness of distant sleep. His wife pressed up beside him, lips first on his neck then sucking, insistent, on his ear lobe.

Tod sat up and rubbed his eyes, unsure how long he'd slept.

"You never wondered why I wanted to be six feet tall, and so thin?" Cynthia asked. "Super-broad cheekbones, huge eyes."

"I never thought you were imitating a specific person," Tod said. "Especially a genetic freak. She probably trained day and night. Starved herself."

"Perfection is perfection," Cynthia said, "and I want it. I thought it was for you, but maybe it's for me."

"It's so much change. So extreme."

"That's Seattle, Tod. If I can't improve myself, I don't want to live. You and Alan had a vision for your business and built it out of nothing. I have my own vision." She prodded his chest as if trying to re-shape him like modeling clay.

To remain beside her in this place would mean transforming himself. To jump a gap in time, detach himself from all assumptions. Every taste and detail that defined him, left behind. Could he follow her trajectory, even come close? Open himself to the Nu, at least enough to reside in Cynthia's world?

Had Fancie's husband tried to keep pace with his wife, or simply let her run?

~

Cold blew Tod awake. A gust pushed gauzy window sheets into the room. Outside, Cynthia paced on the patio as dawn crossed the lake. He pushed out through a curtain, so gossamer it seemed immaterial. A phantom shape, to demonstrate the wind's impulse.

Cynthia strode as if on a beam, back and forth. Bare feet patted the concrete slab, and her naked skin glistened and steamed in the chill. "I paid a woman to seduce you." She spoke without looking at him. "You wouldn't go with her."

"In Portland, at the convention?" Tod placed a hand on the sliding door. "You sent her?"

"I thought it might shock me, if you did it," she said. "Either reconnect us, or break me loose. Why didn't you?"

Tod shrugged and almost left his response at that, but decided to explain. "Not like you think, I'm old fashioned or something. I'm aware of Nu ways. I just didn't do it because that's rotten, fucking some stranger."

Two stories below on the lake-edge promenade, a trio of extreme mod kids approached, probably Skin Plus and genetiKit experiments. The body of the leading boy indicated adolescence, but his head, shrouded in grafted gray and black tentacles, gave no referent for age. He saw Cynthia and pointed her out to the two girls. Tod remained out of view as Cynthia straightened her back in the new light and posed, lifted onto tiptoes, and turned a half-pirouette. As she spun her hair lifted to reveal tidy skin-folds, formerly ears, now vertical slits like thin, colorless lips.

"I know those girls," Cynthia told Tod.

"Those kids?"

"They're not all kids. The naked one with the pink mane, I know her from spa. She's older than me, fiftyish."

"She's naked?" At the rail Tod squinted. The pink-haired sexbomb with a teen's face first seemed to wear a patterned bodysuit, but scrutiny revealed a whole-skin tattoo. Only nipples and navel hinted nakedness through the ink. She responded to Cynthia's dance in kind, a pas de deux at a distance. The trio below steamed and glistened, burning against the chill.

Cynthia kicked one leg high into a vertical split, the same move she made on return from the spa. Nude in the blue daylight she revealed an almost invisibly tiny opening between her legs, so minimal and smooth, nearly neutral.

"The other girl, the taller one," Cynthia said, pointing.

Between the pink-haired nude and the tentacled boy, the tall blond wore a blue batik wrap, which covered large breasts but stopped short enough to reveal blue string panties stretched over hourglass hips. Among this crowd her hair stood out, strangely ordinary. Holding the boy's hand, she gazed between Cynthia above, and the pink-haired nude beside her.

"Don't tell me, that one's seventy?" Tod guessed. "Nice, swoopy curves."

"No, she's the daughter of the other one," Cynthia said, standing still now. "She's eleven, maybe twelve."

To Tod's eye, both mother and daughter looked nineteen.

"They're both beautiful," Cynthia said. "I'd love a daughter like that, to explore with."

"Is it modern of me," Tod asked, "seeing sex appeal in a twelve year old?"

"I know you've heard of the True Autonomy, Tod. Thank Quant we can do what pleases us, now."

Tod squinted at his wife's body. None of her specifics were flawed, but the overall impression seemed indistinct, like a photo retouched until it looked like illustration.

With both hands Cynthia wiped tears down her cheeks. "It hurts me you're not happy. I see the life I want, right in front of me, but you don't care."

Reflexively, Tod almost said he wanted her to like herself, but withheld. Cynthia traced fingertips over her skin, as if demonstrating a fashionable purse.

"Really, you can't enjoy this, Tod? Remember how open you were to everything? When we met, you'd stay up all night sketching. Hypothetical architecture, these crazy, impossible plans. You'd come to bed shivering, and warm up beside me. You were energized then. Happy. You wanted things out of life. You decided what you needed, and took it."

"Don't I now?" Tod began with conviction, but his words trailed off without force.

"No. You're scared," Cynthia said, with more kindness than he expected, and this pulled him in. "You haven't really questioned yourself in so long. You're closing your eyes against the world, pretending it's still twenty years ago."

They once stumbled together through the world. Midnight cherry ice cream at Queen Anne Café, or Thai curry by the U. They'd shopped for their first condo together, above Broadway. With Cynthia's brother, Tod built a business, and success accumulated. Finally a house on the lake, this birch and tungsten fantasy. So much life.

Then, Seattle's shift. Biotech augments, implants, genetic mods. Nu culture fed Nu business. Underground niches like alter-porn and freak mods floated to the surface until they made the cover of mainstream smartzines like NuWoman and Bodymod. NuFutbol and Combat Arena rose above everything on OmniVid. The Con spread, until kids ran to school almost naked in winter.

"Something kept me here," Tod said. "It was you."

"You'll catch up. You'll be great!" Cynthia held his eyes, and kissed him. "Close your eyes, and imagine. Your Nu self."

Unaugmented metabolism left Tod shivering. He went inside, past the airy curtain, and lay on the bed while his wife finished dancing naked in the wind blowing off the lake.

Cynthia's spectators continued down the promenade around the lake perimeter. She came inside, and before Tod got into the shower he told her they could find things to do together. They could focus on the overlap they still had. He could shift himself, a little.

"I know a lot of things we can still do," Cynthia said, and pushed past him into the shower. She was already naked, and her smile made a daring come-on.

~

Tod found the Queen Anne Cafe empty despite the noon hour. His colleague Alan, Cynthia's brother, waited in a window booth. Tod carried plans for their current building renewal project.

"Quieter every week," Tod said, looking around. "The kiddies just want hummingbird food. Nothing they have to chew."

"Leaves this place to us twentieth century guys," Alan said. He was both heavier and grayer than Tod. "Even the wife's on the diet now. Hasn't done that, you know, gut surgery."

"Nothing makes you stick to a diet like removing your ability to eat."

Alan only shrugged, his usual, harsh disdain for The Con seemingly tempered.

Tod wanted to change the subject, but instead he came out with it. "Mine did it."

"Who? Did what?"

"Mine, my wife. Your little sis. Had the surgery."

Alan leaned in, attention focused. "When?"

The old metal bell on the door rang, and a pair of teen boys entered. The first, very tall, pale and drastically thin, went shirtless. Despite Seattle's October chill, he wore only black stretch tights to the knee and faux-alligator calf boots. His bald, stubble-free scalp was imprinted with a hex-grid scarification. The younger boy, frail in ruby short-shorts with silver string suspenders, was otherwise naked and barefoot.

Alan whispered, "Looking for sugarjuice, here?"

The boys peered around for the waitress, and took counter stools. The younger one saw Tod and Alan looking, and responded with an exaggerated, sneering gesture.

"Oy vot, yous?" the older boy growled in a deep, cartoon giant's voice.

The waitress returned from the kitchen. "My sons," she told Tod and Alan. She gave the boys parfait glasses of red syrup, with spiral-striped green straws, and returned to the back.

Alan sipped ice water. "This fucking town."

"She's done other things, too," Tod said.

"What, Cynthia?"

"Fixies, she calls it. Surgeries, or newer stuff. Mods."

The boys focused on sipping from condensation-moist glasses. Already their bodies vibrated perceptibly from the juice's charge. Fingers flicked rapidly at straws, feet jittered beneath stools, and perspiration glistened on bare skin.

Alan opened his menu, though both he and Tod had it memorized. "She seemed taller last time, at least the wife said so. I said that's stupid, saying she'd get taller."

"Bone regrowth. Very painful. Expensive."

"I couldn't help but notice..." Alan trailed off, and gestured in front of his chest. "That much I wouldn't mind."

"That was just the start."

Alan dropped the menu, shaking his head. "I did notice that, and her face changed."

The waitress came back to confirm their usual lunches. Though at least as old as Alan, she possessed a natural, earthy sensuality. Alan often joked about running off with the waitress, and compared her to Kim Novak in Vertigo. That was the downside to partnership with a brother-in-law: Alan could joke about ditching his wife for the waitress, but Tod couldn't.

"Don't get me wrong," Alan said, "I wouldn't mind if mine shaped up. A few snips, OK."

"It started out nothing major," Tod said. "But add up enough small remodels, and you end up somewhere else."

"It's Cyn we're talking about, though. She always looks to tomorrow, not yesterday. She's just... tearing down to rebuild."

"I'm trying to see it like that," Tod said.

"Think about our gig," Alan said. "Renewal, everything modern."

"But when we do a museum, some old theater, we plan it out. Everything fits. You tear down a brick place with wood floors, and build something aluminum and glass, is it the same place?"

Alan shrugged. "Just realized, I haven't seen her since Thanksgiving. We were gone Christmas, and you missed the picnic. Eight, nine months." He hesitated. "She looks different since then?"

Tod tallied the absences and unveilings. "Five fixies, maybe six. The last two pretty major. Cheekbones, new legs wobbling like bamboo."

"Jesus, little sis," Alan said. "Fixies."

~

Colorful players scrambled against blue background. Tod listened to wireless earphones as NuFutbol action filled the vidwall. Max Fournier, Seattle Flash fullback, paused for linemen to set blocks then swept around, stiff-armed Portland's fast-charging middle-free, and cut upfield to high-step inside the edge of the 30-yard-line water pit. Tod shouted and pumped a fist as Fournier was tackled into the water for a gain of eleven. The picturesque splash replayed ultra-slo-mo from new angles as players returned to formation. Fournier's teammates back-slapped him, raising a camera-friendly aurora of water mist under bright lights.

On a foam floor mat, Cynthia watched a yoga vid in a corner of the wall, and listened on her own earphones. Metal-permeated fabric bands, encircling her limbs and waist, contacted bare skin where CircuitTrainer impulses shot into muscles. These triggers guided her along with the yoga teacher's onscreen postures, which she tried to duplicate. She uttered small sounds of effort, and her body dripped the prodigious sweat of Con Diet metabolism at exercise. The yoga mat was made especially for Con practitioners from thick, moisture-carrying foam.

Cynthia heard only her instructor, not her own noises, nor Tod's, nor the football game. Likewise Tod heard the game, but was deaf to his own shouts, and the growls of effort meant to somehow aid the Seattle players.

After yoga, Cynthia switched off her vid and reclined, eyes closed. Deep breathing cooled her, and she rolled on her side and flipped through some NuWoman smart-zines. She found a new exercise program on a zine insert, and beamed it to the CircuitTrainer system. The workout lacked sound or vid content, and could be followed without volition. The body bands electrically triggered muscle contractions of growing intensity. Hips flexed, her pelvis thrust back and forth. Muscles burned.

She flipped through NuWoman's parade of bodies in endless variation, then opened a copy of Bodymod. This worn favorite flipped open by default to a photo spread featuring women who combined surgery, cosmetics, tattoo, and clothing to remake themselves into cartoon character likenesses.

The Follow Me Nada cartoons had been the sensation of OmniVid only in the past two years, but the pictorial led with a buxom, wide-hipped Nada, seven feet tall in tiptoe-heels, with swirled blue hair and a two-tone black-over-blue grin as wide as her face. A Japanese Strawberry Shortcake, height-cropped by a half-meter. Three Betty Boops, ranging from cosmetic to the clearly surgical. Hello Kitty, less human than white and pink cartoon feline.

The zine's centerpiece, a Jessica Rabbit, happened to live nearby. Cynthia and Tod often saw her on the promenade in her dead-accurate red dress. Waist narrower than her upper arm, eyes the size of billiard balls, she was perfect in every proportion.

Cynthia's progress through the article was slow, as she was jerked around by the routine's involuntary movements, convulsive enough to make her lose place in the text.

Tod became distracted from the game by his wife's flailing. He removed his earphones and watched. Her thighs and belly glistened like pearl in human shape. Pure white and moist. She'd done something to her skin overnight, somehow undone her tan.

Unaware of Tod's scrutiny, Cynthia told the system to end her program, then run voicecomm.

"Ready," the system said.

She pressed a small integrated circuit in the magazine ad, and a recorded voice read the comm address aloud to her system.

"Voicecomm plus-one, 2-0-6, medical, C-Y-R, Edwin."

Cynthia stared at the ceiling as the comm went through.

"Regarding your ad, in Bodymod?" she said. "Do you have informational clips? I've seen nothing on OmniVid."

Mid-reply, Cynthia noticed Tod listening and said, "I'll have to see how my husband feels before I make an appointment. Thanks, disconnect."

"Another new clinic?" Tod asked, and thought of Fancie. She still doesn't know.

Cynthia went back to her magazine.

"What are you calling a doctor about?" he asked.

"It's something new. Modern, very exciting." She looked at him sideways, measuring.

"Modern and exciting," he repeated, "meaning what?"

"Genetic. More real than life, that's what they promise."

Tod almost asked again what that meant, but instead reinserted the earphones. He saw his wife stand and say something more, so he pulled out one earpiece.

Cynthia posed dramatically, shy and knock-kneed, like a decades-earlier version of herself. "I was going to wait, but I'll tell you now." Her right hand went to her perfectly flat belly, as if she had an ache. "I have a baby inside me."

~

Tod and Alan's office overlooked Lake Union, the same view as from Tod's home, but another angle. Alan was visiting the restoration site while Tod worked permit filings. His mind drifted toward possibilities, visions of a life to come, so the documents took longer than usual. A new life, somewhat Nu, yet with a coming child, somehow traditional.

He walked a kilometer home along the promenade beneath a dusk-gray sky. As he rounded the lake, Tod imagined his future son. A baby would become a boy, a real son. He'd learn to speak, to read. Somehow this would connect Cynthia not only to the child, but to Tod himself. He gave in fully to the reverie. Playing catch with his little boy at the Belltown Underground Park. A cliché of normalcy, maybe, an extreme opposite of Cynthia's vision. Yet this brought a smile.

A couple approached, pushing a stroller over uneven boards. Tod might normally pass without noticing, yet now the family tugged at him. Both parents seemed to foot over the line of the Nu -- the young mother's head was shaved and scarified -- yet Tod believed he recognized doting parental love. As they passed, Tod saw within the stroller a pink infant squirming under a chartreuse plasticine blanket. The wide-eyed baby tracked Tod as he passed.

Home, he found Cynthia sitting at the dining room table, composed and demure in a way that reminded Tod of his own mother awaiting his father. Hair tied back, she wore a simple white top and jeans. The scene threw Tod back a decade at least.

"Alan sends congratulations," Tod said. "He's so excited."

Cynthia looked up. "It's really real, now that people know." She smiled. "It's real, isn't it?"

Tod left his folio on the counter. "I'm excited too."

Cynthia beamed.

"Alan thinks it'll be good for you." Tod felt a flush of connection. "He thinks it will ground you a bit."

Her smile shifted. "What does he mean? I'll be more like 'the wife' and him?"

"No, no," Tod said. "He's right. You'll be more focused on traditional things, the human stuff, when you have someone else. When a baby comes out of you, this helpless, pink little thing."

"Is that Alan's idea? He's not going to be happy."

Tod approached the table. "It's not just Alan," he said. "The kid will be mine too, and you aren't taking him in for a tentacle graft when he's five. Or she, either way."

Cynthia lay her reader face-down. "Remember the fixie girl we saw from the balcony last week? You can do so much more now, in utero. There's a whole catalog."

"Cynthia, no." Tod tried to put an edge in his voice. "It's not going to be that way."

"Tod, come on. The baby might be yours, but it's mine too. You know me. There are all kinds of options." Her energy level jumped up a notch, as if from too much sugarjuice. "Designer genetics, Tod, not surgery. It's so perfect."

"No, Cyn, I just told you. None of that."

Cynthia's eyes evaded, and her feet jittered under the table. "I'm sorry but it's too late," she said.

She's not just wired, he thought. Why's she so excited?

"You haven't done something..." he began.

She stood, walked casually toward the broad window. "Just a few tricks, in advance."

"You did... something to our son?"

"First, it's a daughter now. Most fixies just fit better with a girl."

"What do you mean?"

"Imagine how cute a little girl would be, if she had real breasts and hips. Like a tiny goddess."

"Cynthia--"

"Variable metabolism," she continued, facing the window. "And stature enhancement. It's too late for me to do the ballet, but she'll be a dancer."

"Cynthia." He breathed, slow and deep. "You... you've already done things?"

She turned to face him, radiating excitement as when she returned from spa. She revealed everything, words like designer happiness and genital sculpting.

Tod reeled against the wall despite himself.

"No, I won't," he said. "No." He'd tried to restrain her, but her all-out pursuit would pull everything away from him. Not only herself, but the child too.

"You were coming around," she said, her voice high and urgent. "Tod, the Nu world is here. You can't wish it away."

"I can leave." In a rush of anger and disgust Tod started toward the front door, but his reason reasserted itself long enough to divert him to the bedroom for a suitcase.

"Don't be melodramatic." She stood in the doorway, watching him take clothing from drawers.

"I tried," he said. "I kept stretching myself. But this..."

Tod wanted to run out without turning back, but made himself stop and look at her. He scrutinized every part of her, and saw nothing that resembled the woman he married.

Her wounded-yet-forbearing victim's smile seemed absurdly put-on, like the saintly way she rested one hand on her belly.

"I don't need you, any more," she said placidly. "I can make as many babies as I want from what you already gave."

Tod's mind replayed endless Saturday afternoons. Waiting for her return. The unveiling of constant revisions. Still he reeled, woozy with shock verging on nausea. Words he preferred to forget intruding from his memory: Cheekbone re-profiling, physique tuning, golden-ratio-fitting.

Outside, beyond the closed door, he briefly imaged he might seek out the real Cynthia, somewhere out in the world. She was gone, of course, completely vanished. Tod couldn't remember the last time he saw her.